Los Angeles has always been one of the bastions of the surveillance state, where all means, fair and foul, were used to investigate and discredit not only criminals but activists who were deemed a threat to the city’s powerful business interests.
Bombs, sex, blackmail, and — quite possibly — murder were tools in the hands of the city’s “Red Squad” and its successors, the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, and the Anti-Terrorist Division.
We have written before about our own journalistic experience with these organizations, as have other journalists, and the record is indeed grim [see this timeline from the Anderson Valley Advertiser for more details].
While a series of lawsuits forced significant reforms in LAPD’s surveillance regime, they have been significantly undone thanks to the political expediency of the “War on Terror.”
From the Laura Flanders Show via Telesur English:
Hamid Khan: The Surveillance-Industrial Complex
Surveillance, spying, and infiltration has a long history in the United States — from the Police Red Squads in the 1880s to the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to today. This week’s guest says The “surveillance-industrial complex” has profound but poorly understood impacts on our political, structural, economic, and cultural lives. Hamid Kahn is the director of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and serves on the boards of several organizations, including the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Political Research Associates, and Youth Justice Coalition. Also in this episode, we meet the students that forced Columbia University to divest from private prisons. All this, and Laura discusses US government spying on Black Lives Matter movement activists.
In October, 2011, Larry Aubry described one notorious Los Angeles Police surveillance program for readers of his column in the LA Sentinel, a publication serving that city’s African American community:
The Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 11 (SO 11) is the lead model of the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) initiative launched in 2008. SO 11 trains and authorizes LAPD officers to gather street level intelligence and information based entirely on “observed behavior.” Such purely, and/or largely subjective and arbitrary police action signals a “surveillance industrial/governmental complex” at the local level. Through SO 11, LAPD and the Department of Homeland Security have established a vague and ambiguous reporting system combined with vague and virtually unlimited authority. SO 11 solidifies a system that normalizes racial profiling and places the brunt of repressive policies on Blacks, other communities of color and immigrants.
SO 11’s fundamental premise is that each and every person is a suspect, hence, a threat to national security. It codifies “suspicious activities” through a LAPD, Suspicious Activities Report (SAR) that documents “any reported or observed activity or criminal act, or attempted criminal act which an officer “believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism,” which is downright scary.
Here are excerpts from LAPD Special Order on SAR, APPENDIX B: “Information reported in a SAR may be the result of observations or investigations by police officers, or may be reported to them by private parties. Incidents (over 40 listed) which shall be reported on a SAR include the following: “Engages in suspected pre-operational surveillance (used binoculars or cameras, takes measurements, draws diagrams, etc.); appears to engage in counter-surveillance efforts (doubles back, changes appearance, evasive driving, etc.); engages security personnel in questions focusing on sensitive subjects (security information, hours of operation, shift changes, what security cameras film, etc.);
“Takes measurements (counts footsteps, measures building entrances or perimeters, distances between security locations, distances between cameras, etc.; takes pictures of video footage (with no apparent aesthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.); in possession of, or solicits, sensitive event schedules (i. e., Staples, Convention Center) ” , etc., etc…….” God forbid!
And Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston wrote about the newest twists in LAPD’s panopticon ambitions for LA Weekly in February 2014:
Los Angeles and Southern California police. . .are expanding their use of surveillance technology such as intelligent video analytics, digital biometric identification and military-pedigree software for analyzing and predicting crime. Information on the identity and movements of millions of Southern California residents is being collected and tracked.
In fact, Los Angeles is emerging as a major laboratory for testing and scaling up new police surveillance technologies. The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring.
The use of militarized surveillance technology appears to be spreading beyond its initial applications during the mid-2000s in high-crime areas to now target narrow, specific crimes such as auto theft. Now, LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff are monitoring the whereabouts of residents whether they have committed a crime or not. The biggest surveillance net is license plate reading technology that records your car’s plate number as you pass police cruisers equipped with a rooftop camera, or as you drive past street locations where such cameras are mounted.
If history teaches anything, it’s that the forces of repression will exploit any tragedy to augment their own powers. The history of the LAPD offers ample proof.